Like his rap partner Meechy Darko, Flatbush Zombie, Zombie Juice has come into 2023 with a debut that speaks wonders to the character development written within the crevices of the bars. Love Without Conditions is viscerally tight, keeping itself focused on the task at hand instead of losing itself within the aesthetic; it can work for some, but Zombie Juice predominantly placates that joyful wordsmith and give fans something more genuine. The production shifts from the overstated druggy-laced synths or other electronic notes over potent percussion like another Zombie record. It’s tempered, keeping itself centered on divulging character. It gives us more of a direct proponent of the non-esoteric sounds within the beats, allowing us to coast through the 34-minute album easily. Unfortunately, that swift breeze can feel flummoxing as Love Without Conditions doesn’t feel as long as it is or keeps itself centered on the emotional complexities of Zombie Juice and the creative path paved for him since childhood. Listening through a few times brings out the dimensions of the songs, specifically through the lyricism, which stays strong even when it transitions to slightly obtuse sounds comparatively, surprising me significantly.
To call Love Without Conditions surprising isn’t without merit, as it’s been rarer for Zombie Juice to get this way, as when Flatbush Zombies flexed written linguistics, Juice never stood out as consistently. He is this jovial foil that kept it going hard when others took it to the inner depths of the oceans with these multi-stacked bars, all contributing to lavish-druggie lifestyles while retaining composure as an everyday human. LSD’s slight reemergence within the prevalent drug cycle became more and more pertinent, especially during my college tenure; it began to infiltrate and blend with the more boisterous weed raps. As someone who has done LSD, the focus it brings to one’s mind, driven by mood, gets mirrored on the album, specifically how you let it lead your mind through varying avenues of reflection, except at the beginning when the visuals are more potent. Instead, Zombie Juice is tapping into his thoughts rather than full colorful writing, creating a distinct reflection cycle that kept returning to LSD and other hallucinogens, but as the days go on, like Zombie Juice, all one has left is their thoughts, reflecting on their growth since the first time they jumped headfirst into the world they inhabit. Juice makes that more pertinent with the first few tracks, especially the first two, “Melancholy” and “Hikari.”
Love Without Conditions feels like a lucid trip, except in reverse, as the contemplative work comes at the beginning and end; the midway point brings more of that aggro-druggie typicality we’ve heard from the Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers prior. Though I could call this a two-track pivot in the middle more of that heightened visual pretense that you get told about when it comes to LSD, but not as unique. It’s what happens when it becomes habitual, or more recurring, that its visual effects aren’t as potent like the first time. They have a leveled balance that would make fans of the groups rejoice with delight as these two groups were significant cornerstones in the shift of NY East Coast Hip-Hop in the early 2010s; it just doesn’t all work here since they feel more like blank slates to flex over. It’s like they are the visuals, coming late to the party, letting the listener/user feel engulfed in their thoughts. It’s a downturn from the intricate and intimate balance within tracks like “Hootz” or “Say Enough,” where the piano becomes a vital component, fleshing the base of the beat by Tyler Dopps to new heights. It directs the tempo, the flows, and the mood, even boasting the effects of its chorus, as Zombie Juice sings, “Gotta say enough, it’s been a long year/Hope y’all remember me, so I wrote this song here/Years of memories, up and down the road/Years of memories, goin’ up in smoke.”
There is an emphasis on Zombie Juice’s narrative, but as is the case with some, their occasional push for the known, in conjunction with, usually fails to hit the mark. It gets jumbled trying to find ways to deliver a bridge between the more somber sections, even when it’s lyrically typical to Juice’s colloquialism in the druggie world. The lyricism continuously shows Juice’s authenticity to stay consistent; it’s just that the bridge doesn’t feel like it belongs, as they are more of the antithesis of some themes, like love and family, leading into and upon finishing “Drizzy” and “Dr. Miami.” As I’ve noted before, it’s a distinct pivot in the complexion of the front-to-back directive. It isn’t to discredit the quality of bars from his features on both, but they don’t feel that entrenched with the standards expected after listening to the smooth cadence on the first two tracks. A significant difference comes from its style, as others tread more straightforward narratives, weaving a story into the confines of a 16-to-24 verse.
That top-tier quality shines with the other rap features, Curren$y and Devin The Dude, who get put on tracks more akin to their flow and rhythm and still follow the assignment with the delivery of their verses. But as it steers the conversation Zombie Juice wants to have with us, it shows the discrepancy in effectiveness. It’s what helps fully round out the album to be this fantastic exploration of the mind of Zombie Juice, taking the opposite approach to the gothic nature of Meechy Darko’s album last year. It’s as if I never felt the need to press pause, like with others. This is a lax cruise. Much of it has to do with its swift pace, which allows you to cycle over and over without feeling like time is getting wasted as it has been with many of the Beast Coast rappers releasing solo projects, from Nyck Caution to Issa Gold and CJ Fly. It’s definitely one of the better hip-hop releases this year so far, and I mean that so wholeheartedly. Go spin Love Without Conditions and hear for yourself.